Ultra Luxury Dining

Depending on where you go and what you eat, dining can be expensive. What is considered expensive? It all depends on what you think, but I think most of you will agree that too many restaurants today are overcharging for food.

How high is too high?

I question a restaurant’s logic of overcharging customers for food. Sure, a chef or owner could argue that certain items costs more to purchase and serve. They could also argue that they have the right to charge whatever price they like because the restaurant is fine dining. Furthermore, they could argue that certain foods require special preparation before serving and therefore, we must charge higher. Let’s take out a look at some of the most expensive foods in restaurants today and judge for yourself, would you pay that much?

Hamburger

In 2006, the L.A. Times wrote a story about the Old Homestead Steak in Boca Raton which features a $100 burger. Are they crazy? A burger is something I grew up loving as a kid and as long as I can remember, my parents would treat me to a $1 burger meal at McDonald’s. Sure, this isn’t any fast food joint, but what kind of burger is worth $100? According to the L.A. Times, the burger features a 20oz. blend of American prime, Japanese Wagyu/Kobe and Argentinian beef. Wow! That is 1 ¼ lbs. of premium beef.

You thought a $100 burger was crazy, think again. Can it really be true that the most expensive burger meal in the world is $5000? Yes, The Mandalay Bay Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas uses foie gras, black Perigord truffles, truffle sauce on a truffle brioche bun. What’s the catch? It comes with a 1990 Chateau Petrus, a French Bordeaux that sells normally for over $2000. The wine comes along with imported glasses from Italy that cost over $100 for a set of 2. How about minus all the extras and just give me the burger!

Steak

If you haven’t heard of Kobe beef, it’s a popular well marbled beef from Japan that has a “melt in your mouth” texture of foie gras. According to legend, the cattle is fed with beer and massaged by human hands.

So if it’s compared to foie gras, you probably guessed it already that this isn’t any cheap cut of meat. An 8oz. Kobe beef steak at the Bradley Ogden Restaurant in Las Vegas will cost you $264 and that’s just for the steak alone. For the same size of cut, customers pay $301 at Tokyo’s Aragawa restaurant. So much hype about Kobe beef has people flocking to high end restaurants just to taste the famed beef. In L.A., Wolfgang Puck’s new steakhouse, CUT, serves an 8oz. Kobe rib eye flown in from Japan for $160.

Sushi

If you want high quality sushi, it is going to cost you. Some of the best Japanese restaurants fly their fish in directly from Japan and therefore their daily menu reflects the availability of fresh fish. Here is a quick side note on nigiri sushi: raw fish on a ball of rice. On average in a city like Toronto, nigiri sushi will cost you $2.25 per piece and depending on the type of fish the cost can be twice as much.

In Boston’s Oya restaurant, nigiri sushi cost $19 to $22 per piece. That’s insanely high! But if you have heard of Masa at the Time Warner Center in New York City, you will know that $22 for one nigiri may be affordable compared to this place. At Masa, customers are charged automatically $400 per person for a 30-course Omakase menu which is a Japanese tasting menu chosen by the chef. There is no other menu and if you can’t finish your meal, too bad. The restaurant has already charged you $400 and this doesn’t include tax, tip or alcohol. You better bring a deep pocket full of money to pay for this meal.

Fit for a King

When I hear of restaurants charging outrageous prices for food, it astonishes me. Chefs become great chefs because they have deep passion for food and they love sharing food to an audience. If this is the case, why are some chefs charging more for a meal compared to what it should be? Should a chef be cooking for one individual willing to pay $100 or $1000 for a meal, or should a chef be cooking to share his food with a larger audience?

I think too many restaurants have fell in this high price trap. As it seems, the whole ultra expensive restaurant creates media attention and promotes a sense of exclusivity. I have paid my share of expensive meals, but I do have control of how much I will pay. Dining like this is only fit for a king.

Photograph by: adactio

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To Grow More is to Learn More

People are amazed to see how much food related material and kitchen equipment we have in our place. As I said several times before, I love what I do and therefore I take my job seriously. People ask me why I have so much stuff. The answer is simple, I am constantly in search of ways to grow and expand my knowledge. Here are some methods that have broadened my mind.

Cookbooks

I have an addiction to cookbooks. Place me in any bookstore in any city and you know where to find me; the cookbook aisle. Checking out for new releases has become a weekly routine. Currently I have over 100 cookbooks which I have tabbed and made recipe notes. Cookbooks are like novels to me. I read, review and study them.

What is the latest cookbook you purchased? Cook with Jamie by Jamie Oliver

Dining out

Dining out is ultimately what I enjoy most. I am in search for the latest restaurant, the next upcoming celebrity chef, the coolest décor and the most creative appetizing dishes across the country. Dining out is a good way to keep up to date with current trends. Dining out is no doubt expensive, so knowing your budget is wise. Select more expensive restaurants for special occasions.

Which restaurant do you wish you could go to? Charlie Trotters in Chicago

Food Markets and Supermarket

Exploring and trying new and exotic ingredients is part of learning what goes well with other ingredients. My cooking inspiration comes from going to the food market searching for the next ingredient to try. How far will I go? I have sat outside at 3:00AM at the doors of one of the largest food markets as I watched trucks unload the catch of the day and the freshest farmer’s vegetables.

What is your favorite Asian supermarket? T&T Supermarket

Kitchen Stores

Generally, I hate shopping! But if it has something to do with food then that’s a different story. Shopping for kitchen stuff is like shopping for a restaurant but just on a small scale. There is so many brands and quality to choose from that you begin to learn what is best. You don’t have to buy, you can always browse.

What is your favorite brand of cookware? Calphalon Nonstick

Magazine and Online Subscriptions

Subscriptions are one of my favorite ways of keeping up to date on restaurant reviews, kitchen gadgets, recipes and current trends. Currently I subscribe to three food based magazines and three industry based magazines. In addition I have signed on with five online subscriptions for industry news and I am also a member of Restaurant Owner, an online association providing tools for restaurant owners.

Food magazines include:

Industry magazines include:

Online Subscriptions include:

What other magazines do you purchase? Food Arts and Food & Wine

Tradeshows

Tradeshows are ideal for any serious individual planning to work in the restaurant industry. It is a great place to network with some of the most respected industry leaders. Other benefits include meeting various suppliers from every sector of the industry and having the opportunity to sample products and test equipment. For the last eight years I have attended every food and beverage show in the city including a wine event at least once a year. I have even traveled to New York just for the sole purpose of attending a seminar given by well known chef author, Anthony Bourdain. At this same event, I had the privilege to personally speak to some of most acclaimed chefs in the country including New York’s renowned chef, David Chang of Momofuko Noodle Bar.

Which tradeshow do you want to attend? Northwest Foodservice Show, April 27-28 in Seattle www.nwfoodserviceshow.com

Food Literature

Food novels have been increasingly popular ever since the release of the very comical book, “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain. Food novels are no longer just for foodies. Some of the very best books that I highly recommend for anyone to read include:

  • Lessons in Service by Charlie Trotter
  • The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
  • Don’t Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World’s Greatest Chefs by Kimberly Witherspoon and Andrew Friedman
  • The Starbucks Experience by Joseph A. Michelli

What am I reading now? Setting the Table by Danny Meyer.

The Internet

With the power of the Internet, information can be searched and found instantly. From books to recently reviewed restaurants to restaurant industry news, the Internet is part of my daily source of information.

What are some of my favorite bookmarked sites?

Wine

Working in the restaurant industry is not just about the food but what complements the food. I have always had an interest in wines and at one point in my career I had contemplated studying to become a wine sommelier. Collecting wines is something I like to do. Once upon a time the golden rule was “red wine goes with meat and white wine with seafood.” Yes, this holds some truth, but it shouldn’t be etched in stone. Choose wines that you enjoy and explore others that will complement your next meal. Visiting wineries is something anyone interested in wines should try at least once. You learn to appreciate wine more. If you ever have an opportunity, I highly recommend visiting Napa Valley in California.

Can you recommend an excellent well balanced value wine? 2006 La Vieille Ferme Cotes Du Ventoux, Rhone, France

What I do works for me and I enjoy every aspect of it. This is not a guideline that you must follow to be a successful restauranteur. I only can share what I know and believe. I do know that for anyone to grow and to further excel in any career you must want it and you must continue to learn from others.

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Independent versus Franchise II

This article continues on with the discussion of the pros and cons of opening a franchise vs an independent restaurant.

How Much does it Cost?

Franchises are broken down into three main cost components.

  1. Initial franchise fees are a one time fee for buying into the franchise. This can range from $25,000 to $40, franchise. Fees on the higher end tend to be concepts that can generate higher revenues such as $2 million or more. Generally, most franchises charge $25,000 to $35,000.
  2. Royalty fees are normally paid as a % of gross sales on a weekly or monthly basis. Royalty fees allow the corporation to share a percentage of the franchisee’s profit. On average this can range from 4% to 8%. Faster growing concepts generally charge a 5% royalty fee.
  3. Advertising & Marketing fees is the right to use the company’s advertising programs to promote your business. Depending on the marketing and advertising requirements of the company, fees can range 2% to 4% of net sales. For example, a company may require you to spend a certain amount for the grand opening or on local advertising.

How to Evaluate a Franchise?

If you are considering a franchise, then you need to know how to evaluate one. There are six main points that can be used to choosing the right one.

  1. Return on Investment. Are you making money? For example, if you have a unit that earns 20% operating profit and you owe 5% in ongoing royalty fees, you are still left with 15% return on investment.
  2. Brand name. Do you have a positive connection with the brand? Is the brand recognizable? For example every kid and adult knows McDonald’s as the fast-food hamburger restaurant. Regardless of whether a person likes McDonald’s, everyone knows the brand.
  3. Marketing and Sales Tools. Does the franchise provide tools to assist you in marketing the restaurant? Is the restaurant constantly searching for a new product to develop? You should want a concept that believes in ongoing research and development.
  4. Purchasing and Distribution. Will you receive favorable supplier contracts? You want to be able to purchase your supplies at a better price since you will be part of a larger organization.
  5. Reliability and Consistency. Are you able to rely on the company to create something that will keep your business attractive in the competitive marketplace? You want to remain a strong competitor for years to come.
  6. Support. What kind of franchise support does the company offer? You want a company that will support you in both the good times and the bad.

What else should I know?

Companies screen applicants based on several factors – net worth, liquid assets, experience, and education and two most important factors, passion and commitment. Restaurant franchise agreements generally require a 10 year commitment with options to extend. From a company’s perspective training and setting up takes significant time and money. Therefore, a company wants a person who wants to be there because they enjoy it and they are totally committed to building the brand.

I want to be Independent. A Franchise isn’t for me.

So you evaluated the franchise option and you have decided that it wasn’t right for you. Starting a restaurant on your own requires hours of research and money. Unlike a franchise support system, you have to create every component of your business from concept, site allocation, logo and branding, training, operation, and marketing. This doesn’t mean a support system cannot be in place. As an independent restaurateur, you have the ability to create your own type of support system by building contacts, networking and partnering with other businesses. As your network of contacts become larger, access to your resources will widen. On a more positive note, an independent restaurant owner has the potential to significantly earn more money than a franchisee. With no franchise fees or ongoing royalty fees, you have the power to control the direction of your own business. A successful concept remains independent until you want it to grow more. You too can build your restaurant into a successful franchise system. If you have the passion and drive, anything can be accomplished.

What is my Opinion?

As for myself, I did not choose a franchise. My wife and I truly believe with both our academic and work experience, we have what it takes to start a successful restaurant on our own. This is a personal decision that you have to make. Do I believe in franchises? Yes, I do. However, just like planning your own, you need to do research. Check out which restaurant franchise ranks well and see if it works for you. In addition, like any business, choose with precaution. Do your homework and ensure you are receiving a fair deal.

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